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Rice-pledging Scheme

Bt20 billion ready for rice farmers next week

EC approves govt request; funds to be repaid from proceeds of rice sales by May 31

Farmers who hold pledging receipts issued under the government's rice-pledging scheme last November are expected to be paid next week, in a breakthrough that could ease one of the Yingluck Shinawatra-led government's most serious political problems, at least in the short term.

The Election Commission's board yesterday approved a request by the caretaker government to use an additional Bt20 billion from the national budget to pay the farmers, who are still waiting for payments that were due in November.

The government must return the funds to the budget by May 31.

Caretaker Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong yesterday clarified to the EC the reasons the government needs the Bt20 billion for the rice-pledging scheme.

After the meeting with Kittiratt, EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn posted on his Facebook page that the funds would be considered an advance payment, which would be repaid in full by the Foreign Trade Department to the Finance Ministry by May 31.

The funds to cover the repayment would come from the department's sale of rice from the state's stockpile.

In his Facebook post, Somchai said the EC approved the use of central-budget funds for six reasons.

First, the EC has the power to approve the additional budget, which was requested as an urgent case.

Second, Somchai said, the Bt20 billion is considered borrowing - not expenditure - and the government will have to return all of it after earning money from the sale of rice.

Third, the Public Debt Management Office has assured the EC that the amount will be returned in May, and that the use of the funds will not affect the nation's reserves set aside for emergency cases.

Fourth, the Foreign Trade Department assured the EC that it could earn Bt8 billion a month from rice sales, totalling Bt24 billion over three months.

Fifth, the due date for the return of the funds, May 31, is expected to be within the time frame of the current caretaker government, so the move is unlikely to place any obligations on the next government.

Sixth, the Bt20 billion will be paid to farmers who received pledging receipts in November, before the dissolution of the House of Representatives. Therefore, the payment to the farmers cannot be seen as a move to gain an advantage in the ongoing election.

Somsak Chotrattanasiri, budget director of the Budget Bureau, said yesterday that the Bt20 billion should reach farmers next week via the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives.

"Using Bt20 billion as an advance payment should not create any problems, as there is still almost Bt70 billion left in the nation's central budget," he said.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Trade Department reported that caretaker Commerce Minister Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan had approved the sale of 600,000 tonnes of rice in separate auctions to 11 private companies who took part in bidding, earning a total of Bt20 billion.

Caretaker Deputy Commerce Minister Yanyong Phuangrach said the money from the central budget should reach the farmers over the next week. When combined with money earned from rice sales - which he said should amount to Bt10 billion a month - there should be sufficient funds to pay farmers waiting for payments from December as well.


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